A Fire Culture Examination

In a collection of essays focusing on the fire service culture Dr. Burton Clark EFO provokes us in a philosophical way to reconsider the efforts we place on saving the lives of firefighters and civilians alike by understanding the difference one person can make so long as they stand up for what is right.

“I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying” (Premium Press American, 2015) is a collection of over 40 brief but poignant essays on our attitude and efforts towards reducing firefighter line of duty deaths and civilian fire fatalities.  Nearly each one is based on an event in Dr. Clark’s service as a volunteer firefighter, career firefighter and member of the National Fire Academy.

By literally judging a book by its cover a reader could easily assume, even with the smallest foreknowledge of Dr. Clark’s work, that this writing focuses on reducing firefighter fatalities.  The cover photo of the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emittsburg, Maryland is an obvious lead but the subjects inside present so much more.

The writing is broken into four parts focusing on firefighter fatalities on the fireground; fatalities involving the lack of seatbelt use; the culture surrounding mayday training; leadership in the fire service; and the pursuit of higher education.  A main theme connecting each of these subjects is the awareness of how individual actions, individual responsibility – doing the right thing all of the time – has an effect that ripples throughout any department.

Having spent a large time writing of my own writing on the subject of line of duty deaths I was instantly drawn to the first part of Dr. Clark’s essays on the same subject.  I must admit that while I do not fully agree with his position on our connection to Benjamin Franklin’s DNA (Fast/Close/Wet/Risk/Injury/Death) as a significant cause of our fatalities, I do agree that there is a significant behavioral link from our past that continually intrudes into our education.

Taken as a group of subjects or the individual chapters, Dr. Clark’s writings give the reader enough emotion and critical thought to reconsider if we, as a national organization, fire departments and individuals, are being honest with ourselves about some of the ‘elephants in the room’ that we don’t talk about.  Among these are the recognition of valor and line of duty death; negligence and incompetence; culture and a confluence of educational efforts.  As Clark asks in one chapter, “What level of lie does the fire service accept, consciously or unconsciously, about firefighter behavioral health or safety doctrine?” we must consider if the efforts to reduce our fatalities in the past, and currently, would be more effective if they were sharper in their focus.

Dr. Clark’s work on the greater use of seatbelts is reviewed with addition of personal accounts from others in the fire service that took a stand and made progress in their own departments.  Their example goes far beyond the use of seatbelts and exemplifies how an individual can affect a positive influence among those they serve and work with.

“I Can’t Save You But I’ll Die Trying” is available through Premium Press online and in O’Leary’s Emporium at the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland.